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A Pilgrimage To Pioneertown To See Girls, Yuck and Papa

By Gianna Hughes on April 25, 2012

 

A Pilgrimage To Pioneertown To See Girls, Yuck and Papa

My trip to Pioneertown to see Girls, Yuck and Papa at Pappy & Harriet’s took some detective work. Sure, purchasing the tickets was easy. But I had to find a place to stay while down in the desert. Much like Coachella, Pioneertown is far enough away  from other cities that it’s completely unappealing to drive home in the middle of the night. But unlike Coachella, the town only has a few residents and a couple hundred people in attendance for events, not 80,000. 

After some consideration, I decided that camping was the best option. After e-mailing a woman named Terri via the town’s website, she responded with a one-line e-mail referring me to a man named Rick—someone who will “take care of you.” 

I finally called Rick the day before the event, which was set to take place on Thursday, April 19, the day before the second weekend of Coachella began. When he answered, I quickly realized I was calling his place of residence. But I asked about camping reservations anyway, and he said to just “come on down.” So I hung up without a reservation and no idea of what to expect. 

The next morning, I set out to drive mostly the same highways I took to Coachella the weekend before, excluding the final stretch of Highway 62 that led me to the secluded town in the Morongo Basin. When I finally arrived, however, there were very few people in sight, none of whom were Rick. After asking some locals and knocking on a few unanswered doors, I finally found a person who knew where Rick lived: down the dirt path and to the right. I, naturally, approached the man’s house with skepticism, but knocked on his screen door regardless. After a few minutes, an elderly, bearded gentleman answered the door, politely claiming I had woken him from a nap. This was the man who held the metaphorical key.

Rick then came outside in his socks and walked me to the property where people could camp—since it was early in the day, only one couple was there set up in the far corner of the lot. Rick said, “Anywhere you can drive is a driveway. Camp where you want.” I then paid the man in cash, and I set up my tent near a looming Joshua tree. With my sleeping situation resolved, I proceeded to explore the isolated town a little more. And the longer I was there, the more I embraced the strangeness of it all—and appreciated the fact that the only stage in town was at the local eatery, Pappy & Harriet’s (excluding the sound stage that was set up to film Old West movies, of course). 

The main stretch of land soon began to be filled with reenactors and tourists looking for amusement. Cowboys dueled as visitors grabbed photos and gasped. One reenactor even mused that Los Angeles would be a two- to three-day ride from Pioneertown. Silly? Yes. But charming nonetheless. 

After dinner and a stunning desert sunset, people began to fill the outside patio of the restaurant. I grabbed a spot near the stage, knowing the dirt-filled courtyard would fill up by the end of the night. For an event like this, it’s certain that the people in attendance are genuine fans of music. They are there for the specific bands, and they are willing to drive at least two hours to see them in a special setting. With the stars in the sky above us, it was clear why I made that drive myself. 

Los Angeles’ Papa finally took the stage at 8 o’clock, but not before earnestly dedicating their set to the late Levon Helm of The Band. Singer Darren Weiss’ brother, Evan—who also performs as Girls’ guitarist—joined the band for their set, and he certainly seemed enthusiastic about performing with his younger sibling. During the entire set—both sets, in fact—Evan held a smile on his face, and much of the crowd felt the same way. And although they were miles from their homes, Papa played as if they knew the crowd was mostly Angelinos. Weiss performed with such an intensity you could hardly take your eyes off him. When ending their set with “I Am The Lion King” from A Good Woman Is Hard To Find, Weiss left his station behind his drum kit to high-five each audience member in the front row. He then returned to finish the song with everyone cheering along. After a performance like that, I would have been content for the evening. But Yuck were set to take the stage next.

Yuck's performance proved to be a mellow, yet ideal transition into Girls’ headlining spot. Although the band was mysterious and quiet in front of their psychedelic visuals, there were still audience members head-banging. Maybe they were just looking for an excuse to go crazy. Or maybe they truly felt the music. Either way, it proved that people were glad they drove to the desert to catch this performance of the London-based band. “I’ve never been to this part of the world before,” said guitarist, Max Bloom. And that was true for many people there, despite the fact that most were from California. 

Girls finally took the stage around 10 o’clock, accompanied by their infinitely talented back-up singers. The band opened with the second song from Father, Son, Holy Ghost, “Alex.” This immediately had the crowd singing along, and when I looked above, the sky was as clear as I’ve seen it in years. There were no spotlights marking a giant X over the blackened sky. There were no headlights. There were only stars as far as the eye could see.

Singer Christopher Owens was soft-spoken, but commanded the attention of the crowd. During certain moments, it was clear that he was losing himself to the content of the songs—surely a sign of a true songwriter. These were not words he wrote arbitrarily, but words he lived. And with Evan Weiss back on stage playing guitar, it was apparent that he is an invaluable asset to the band. During songs like “Saying I Love You” and “Vomit,” the crowd was equally interested in the guitar as they were the singing. And the backup singers, who are usually a treat for larger performances, had a positive energy that was absolutely contagious. One either watched them and smiled, or watched them in awe as they sang. At times, crowd members had audible reactions—most of which were bewildered expletives—to their singing, including during “Love Like A River.” 

Girls ended their set with “Lust For Life” from their debut album, Album. After saying my goodbyes to some friends, I made my way back to my campsite through the deserted and dark alley. But before retiring for the night, I joined several other campers around a campfire—which was contained in a bucket provided by the illusive Rick. We exchanged stories and laughed under the night sky. And at one point, a John Lennon look-a-like said, “Music is all we have. We have to keeping singing the song of the people.” And as we all mused about that, I decided that this experience was one I needed. There were no holograms. No fashion competitions. And no ignoring the music. All there was was the music, and the genuine love of it from people who made the pilgrimage to Pioneertown. 

Girls setlist:

“Alex”

“Honey Bunny”

“My Ma”

“Heartbreaker”

“Laura”

“Love Like A River”

“Saying I Love You”

“Carolina”

“Hellhole Ratrace”

“Vomit”

“Lust For Life”

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